front page - search - community 

Ackerman leaving July 17

Control board, mayor, school board at odds

(Published May 22, 2000)


Staff Writer

The major reason cited by school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for her decision to resign, effective July 17, appears to be presenting serious questions about which governing body will be responsible for appointing the next leader of D.C. Public Schools.

Ackerman announced last week that she would accept a job offer to become superintendent of San Francisco’s public school system. While her actual letter of resignation was conciliatory in tone, she went public with her frustration about the unclear lines of authority over the schools before announcing her decision.

The D.C. Board of Education, which was stripped of its legal authority to run the schools by the control board in November 1996, announced late last Friday that its members planned to meet privately with Ackerman May 22 to seek her recommendations for selection of an interim superintendent, as well as a permanent replacement.

However, the control board reportedly was also close to a decision to name a new public school advisory board that would be asked to help in the search for a new superintendent. Although Ackerman was hired by the presidentially appointed control board, D.C. law vests that authority in the elected Board of Education.

Further complicating the selection process for a new superintendent is the stated desire of Mayor Anthony A. Williams to gain some level of responsibility over the schools. A referendum to be voted on June 27 would for the first time allow the mayor to appoint four members of the school board, who would then be confirmed by the city council. The mayor’s and the council’s legal authority over the schools currently is limited to acting on the budget that is presented annually by the superintendent and the school board. They have no day-to-day operational authority over the public schools.

The control board also had previously promised to return full authority over the public schools to the elected Board of Education on June 30 of this year, but appears now to be backing away from that commitment.

With the situation so complicated by several timing issues, the executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center, which last year presented a report with several options for reforming the public school governance structure, has publicly called on the control board to stay out of the decision-making on selecting a new superintendent.

"The last thing we need is for a permanent superintendent to be selected before we know how the school board is going to be composed," said Appleseed’s Joshua S. Wyner during a May 18 public forum on the June 27 referendum at the University of the District of Columbia.

Wyner, who noted that he grew up in the District and attended the city’s public schools, said it is "very important that the school board select the superintendent, no matter how the board is constituted," so that the board and superintendent are able to forge a proper working relationship for running the schools.

Wyner said "we should all oppose that idea" when several audience members expressed concern that the control board might decide to select the next superintendent, as it did Ackerman.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator